Sunday, 15 November 2009

Garlic planted

For first time we have planted a crop of garlic, we used the poly tunnel frame, south facing about 20m long and 1m wide. The three most important factors are

1. They needs one month of 10c or less
2. They need water during the growth period
3. They need maximum sun before harvesting, this will be achieved in the south facing site. We planted through woven plastic to suppress weeds and conserve moisture if we have a drought next year. The planting holes are made with a propane burner. Spacing is 5" within the row and 10" between the rows.
Garlic are split into two groups, the Hard Neck varieties which tend to be beyyer flavour but do not keep past Christmas,we are planting three of those namely Sprint, Germidor and Corail. The Soft Neck varieties will keep longer and have a milder flavour and smaller cloves we planted one variety of these Arno these are the varieties that you often see plaited due to the soft neck which is more flexible.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Classes in organic vegetable growing

I have been running a series of classes for gardeners interested in organic vegetable growing. Rather than print out reams of notes I promised to publish my note for the course here. So to see the notes either click on the title above or follow this link:

to find the notes. For those on the course below this page are the pictures of raised beds as used in the Bio Dynamic Care Community in Botton.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

An inspirational visit, Botton Camphill Community

We have just returned from an enlightening trip to North Yorkshire. We visited the Camphill Community at Botton village. 10 miles from Hutton le Hole over the North York Moors at 1,000, you drop into a valley, most of which is owned and farmed (700 acres in all) by the Camphill Community. There are 600 villagers working on the gardens and farms,guided by co workers and apprentices

The first view of the village as you come off the moor, most of the land you see is farmed by Botton Village.
All the farms are run on Biodynamic lines although the needs of the villagers are put before rigid agricultural and horticultural practices. Each farm has a task either dairy cows as seen above, beef, vegetables and Stormy Hall which produces and packs a wide range of Biodynamic seed.
Temporary tunnels are used allowing various envirnments to created for each crop, above are hoops for the 2m and 4m wide tunnels. Below is the land anchor used fro the larger tunnel
We came across various tools not normally seen in the UK, one was a French fork with two handles used to break up the soil but not turn it over. Another was the Dutch hoe seen below, it has a small handle on the end of the shaft which fits the hand and improves efficiency and comfort in use.
Stormy Hall grow separate vegetable crops from the other farms lower in the valley, presumably to evaluate varieties and isolate them for seed collection. Seen here are a Leek crop and Red Cabbage. The Leeks were doing well but spaced 12" apart in the rows compared to the 6" spacing we use.

The specialist vegetable farm lower in the valley used raised beds and are in the process of building more, they have cloches over some depending on crops and conditions.
The inner garden is laid out with mainly ornamentals and is a walled garden providing a beautifully peaceful environment for villages and co workers alike.

We found the village an inspirational place all the people we met were friendly and immensely proud of what they were achieving every day. The atmosphere was one of peaceful purposefulness. The whole ethos of the place was one of care for each other, care for the landscape and care for the animals within it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

New Market at Jewellery Quarter

We have started a new market at Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham, it has been a steady start so far but there is real enthusiasm from the organisers, all based in the local community. I have never seen so many Jewellery and gold shops in one place before. There is a residential community who have been used to supermarket shopping. Hopefully we can provide an alternative to the high food mile, cold stored chemically induced food.

We will be attending until the December market and make a decision then whether to continue.
The dates for the markets this year are November 21st, December 5, both Saturdays.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Millies progress

Borders Collies are the most active dogs I have come across, so taking an acceptable picture has proved impossible so far. Still here are a few to show how she is coming on.She is now just over 7 months old, she has been introduced to sheep at first in an open field with another dog to keep the sheep together. The result was I can only describe as an Ovine bomb. Sheep scattered to the four corners of the field, Millie chasing, tail up having a great time. I changed tack and did some work with our sheep in a small paddock this was better but still spent time getting sheep out of field corners and did more running than is healthy for my age.

Today I built a round pen from borrowed sheep hurdles augmenting our own, to give a circumference of 50m give or take. This has been a massive improvement, reducing stress on the sheep and me.

Initially I worked her round the outside of the pen with me and sheep inside. Trying to keep the sheep balanced to me and teaching the commands away and come by. Then we worked with Millie, me and the sheep in the pen, so far so good. Much more relaxed with good results from the session.

More updates soon

Monday, 14 September 2009

Good week

A good week in the life of Hopesay Glebe Farm, The harvest of onions completed in double quick time, all now in the poly tunnel drying off. Looks like we a reasonable crop of about a tonne, will last on our markets till about April.

We always grow our onions from seed and hand plant through a biodegradable mulch. This gives us improved storage over onion sets and reduces the risk of introducing white rot to our cropping area. We do see a handful of onion plants with rot but with rotation of the crops have managed so far to keep it to a minimum.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Update on some outdoor crops

At this time of year we are moving from summer to winter crops, the change over depends on weather through autumn. Good weather at this time of year will make a significant difference to our annual profits, especially after the poor weather in July.

Spinach has been going well and we have made our third cut, with a potential fourth if the weather goes well.

The beetroot have been growing slowly but as most of our customers prefer smaller roots
The beetroot planted back in June has been doing well except for the short tail vole damage which has been reduced when we removed the mesh crop cover allowing predators access. These include owls and our expert rodent control manager: Black Cat

We had three batches of Leeks this year the smallest plants are from plants sown in May in a polythene tunnel, the largest are those sown in a frame in February with the only protection from a mesh cover. we will check which type does best later in the year.

Red onions are ready for drying off, the tops have bent over we will be moving them to the tunnel to wither the tops.
We used multi sown onion cells this year, we aim for between two and four seed per cell, from the results the muti sown modules have worked well, we are getting about 25% more per m2.

One of reliable crops is summer flowering Purple, it doesn't need vernalisation to set flowers, with a cool autumn we should get three or four more weeks from this crop, provided there is no early frost.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Lost an old friend

Last week at the age of eleven and half years my old friend died.
Gyp never one of the worlds hardest workers but always friendly, greeting guests and accompanying me on trips to the wholesaler or to growers. She lived under my desk in the study where I'm writing this, I look for her each time I come in the room. Rest easy old friend

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Beekeeping course

We ran the bee keeping day here last Sunday where we covered bee keeping as a hobby and gave the participants the opportunity for some practical experience. Below are the notes I used for the day

Bee Space: this discovery enabled the design of the modern moveable frame hive.Rev Langstroth discovered that inside a hive a space of 35mm would be respected as a pathway by the bees, a smaller space would be filled often with propolis and a larger space would be filled with comb. So by keeping a bee space between frames we can ensure that bees will respect the space and usually not build comb between the frames. Leaving the frame separate so they can be removed and replaced at will.
Top Bee space hives: these have a bee space above the frame bars which keeps the top bars clear of comb and propolis making them easier to remove.
Langstroth: used worldwide by the vast majority of commercial beekeepers, usually top bee-space 10 frames per box.
National: most common hive in UK smaller than Langstroth and usually bottom bee space, 11 frame per box.
WBC double wall hive using national frames,pretty but inconvenient to work with,

There are numerous other hives which are all based on the same theme some smaller some bigger but in truth the bees don't care the main thing is to keep to one type of hive in your operation.

Queen excluder keeps the queen laying in the brood area, keeping the rest of the boxes for honey.
Brood chamber : boxes kept for queen to lay eggs and raise brood
Supers : boxes used to collect honey, can be full or half depth.

Hive tool: metal tool used for prising hives apart and freeing frames in the hive.

Smoker: stainless steel or copper are available, I always choose on with a guard which prevents burns and damage to other equipment
Smoker box: If you are travelling to your hives it is a good idea to keep your smoker and hive tools in a metal fire proof box,

Protective equipment: Plan on the minimum of a good bee suit, gloves and suitable boots, working bees knowing you will not be getting stung too much. Stings can still get through but good equipment keeps this to a minimum.

The bee colony comprising Queen 1 (usually) drones several hundred summer only, workers 15 to 60 thousand. and during the season eggs and brood at various stages.
Swarming when the queen and most of the older bees leave to found a new colony, taking most of the foraging force and resulting in a much reduced harvest.
The aim of the beekeeper is to build the colony as large as possible to get a big foraging force and to avoid swarming to maintain the work force.
to reduce swarming we need to keep a young queen in the hive and give as much space in the brood nest to allow the queen to continue laying.

To have young queens you must practice some form of queen rearing, see later. to maintain space in the brood nest you can split the colony early in spring, keep adding preferably drawn comb into the brood nest or run on a double brood box system.
The principles are have a young queen in the hive and maintain laying space in the brood chamber.

Queen Rearing/swarm control

Regardless of the number of hives you run it will be important to raise your own queens. A supply of young queens is one of the best safeguards to reduce swarming.
Artificial swarming: Involves splitting the hive in two, one half with the old queen the other with brood and eggs with adhering bees placed to one side. They will raise a queen, once she is mated the two halves can be reunited or a new colony started.
Walk away splits. A simplified version of the above, the hive is split in half with equal brood in each half, the splits are placed close together so they share the old site and as a result the flying bees. The queen-right half will continue as before while the queenless half with set about raising a queen.
If the above methods are used after drones are seen in the hive and before swarm cells are seen then you have a good chance of preventing swarming.

To raise larger numbers of queens some form of grafting will need to be used. Grafting is the removal of larvae from the cell to a specially prepared queen cup.
These cups are then placed in a queenless starter colony for 24hrs then into a queen right colony above a queen excluder or maintained in a queenless colony until ready for distributing too mating nucleus hives or direct into colonies for re-queening.

Summer management of hives
Add empty supers to maintain space above the hive all the time a flow is on, Check colonies weekly for swarming may and June then periodically check for space, stores and viable queens.

In Oil Seed Rape areas honey is normally extracted by the end of may to the first week of June depending on the crop. The second extraction is usually early August then in September if heather honey is collected.
Most people will uncap with a cold knife although various forms of heated blades are available.
Honey is extracted using centrifugal force in a radial or tangential extractor. we normally store the honey in 30lb buckets straight from the extractor then it can be stored and processed later.

Processing honey
for clear honey we heat the honey tubs in a water bath to a temp of 40C but some people go as high as 48C. At these temperatures honey will melt without detrimental affects on flavour. Once melted the honey is filtered through a straining cloth into a bottling tank where once the bubbles have risen the honey is bottled into required containers.

To make creamed or soft est honey honey: A seed of set honey is needed (1/4 of the total processed) the seed is warmed enough to make it pour and is added to the melted strained honey. The mix is then stirred every day for several day until a homogeneous consistency is achieved. The honey is bottled while it is soft enough to pour.

Labelling for detailed advice see the following link to the BBKA site:

Monday, 3 August 2009

The wet season continues

The seasons are moving on and some crops are ripening despite the weather, the wettest July in 100 years. Slugs are ever present see below hanging off an onion leaf, but most vegetable crops are OK except for lettuce which has stopped growing and leeks that need good light levels to develop.

The Jerusalem Artichokes do well in wet weather and are over 10' tall now, presumably the roots are developing just as fast.

The Rhubarb has decided enough is enough and is going dormant for this year. I see some growers are still selling sticks but we have found that the quality has deteriorated on our crop and stopped pulling 4 weeks ago.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Discussion panel on peak oil in Ludlow

On the 21July I took part as a panel member in the discussion on Peak Oil and the implications for future food production.

I thought it may be of interest to copy my notes fro the evening as follows:

To decide what we need to do in the future we need to make a stab at what the future holds. We have three forces acting on us affecting how we can produce and distribute food.
1. Peak Oil, we have passed the point of peak oil, oil based products can only get more expensive from now on.
2. Global climate change, affecting the range and quantities of food we can produce.
3. A financial system based on commodity speculators and globalised food companies.

All of these interact affecting increasing climate change, social stability and food availability. The Chaos theory tells us that when three or more variables are acting together that the outcome cannot be predicted.
What we can do however is see the way general trend is heading. This is of finite resources and an increasing demand for food . Also increasing domination of food production and distribution by multi national organisations such as biotech/pesticide manufacturers, supermarkets and the major oil companies.
We as a community have a choice, these forces are not inevitably going to take control of our lives but we must use the power we have to control what happens now.
The choice as I see it is between a globalised mono cropping system based on input of petrol chemicals, commodities and large scale distribution and a localised poly cropping food system with local production and sale of food. Reliant not on petro-chemicals and the road haulage industries but on local farmers and retailers providing the bulk of our food needs.

Kisinger said: Control the oil and you will control the country, control the food and you will control the people.
I believe we are facing a time when multinational companies are actively taking control of our food supply by supplanting poly-cropping agriculture across the world with mono-cropping systems reliant on petro-chemicals, genetically modified crops and massive food distribtion businesses.
To quote Dr Vandana Shiva "Globalised mono cropping does not produce more food it produces commodities" These then are sold on the international market to the largest investor and used according to the needs of the most wealthy in the world. A system incidentally which produces losses of 50% of food produced.

I believe that in the future a sustainable system will be one that uses methods of crop rotation providing nitrogen using legumes, pest and weed control with organic methods and local low input distribution systems.
Small scale food production using organic or similar systems.
Farmers and local markets for retail of local foods wherever possible.
Sale of imported foods limited to those that can be transported by sea and which cannot be grown locally.

In short we should take back control of our food and our agriculture.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Beetroot and spinach

Having just finished clearing the paths between the beds I took the opportunity to assess how the spinach and beetroot we doing.

Spinach is a fast growing crop and has been producing a harvest for several weeks now. On average we can take three complete cuts from each bed. This bed is on it second cut, so we will be sowing a follow on crop next week to take us into the autumn and through to early spring.All our beetroot are sown in modules before being planted out through the biodegradable mulch. This eliminates weed competition (except for weed in the paths) and protects the roots from mice as they develop.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Onions and Leeks

The Alliums , onions and leeks are all planted and established. They are all planted through a biodegradable mulch which controls weeds and prevents soil water loss. The paths are sown down to white clover but in the first few weeks a lot of weed will grow. This if unchecked will suppress the growth of the crop. We therefore mow down each path to reduce competion.
The onions are doing OK and as seen below they are just starting to bulb up now we are past the longest day.
Onion beds with the paths tidied.

Leeks now starting to grow away, they are a bit late as we had a chicken attack on our seed beds this year, we therefore had to so 2,000 in module trays. They do OK from modules but we find that establishment and growth rate are reduced.

Monday, 6 July 2009

All sheep sheared at last

One of my biggest concerns this year has been the shearing of our small flock. we have a total of 30 ewes and wethers on two sites. This year Trevor came to our rescue and brought his aged dog Joe along to get the sheep in. This he did without a command from Trevor and was almost too early as we were still setting up the pen.

We did get them all contained, this is part of a contingent of 20 hoggets due to be sold as mutton in the Autumn

We were very pleased with the job Trevor did, he was very gentle and didn't cut them at all and the sheep were relaxed throughout . We trimmed feet and moved them to a new field at the same time. It was a late finish but we were relieved to have the job finished and the fear of fly strike has diminished.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Millie grows

Our young sheep dog is growing well, now at 5 months she is just starting to take commands and shows interest in sheep.I'm thinking of introducing her to sheep over the next four weeks or so, I just need to make sure that the sheep I use are used to dogs to avoid any chance of putting Millie off sheep for good by getting butted.
Not sure what's going on with those ears, one day they both looked pricked the next both down then one up one down.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Courses for 2009, in association with The Soil Association

We have agreed the potential dates for three courses held here this year. We are running the following:
Organic vegetable growing covering all stages from soil, planning and seed to harvesting.
dates 12 July and 16 August
Bee keeping, including general bee keeping practices and an introduction to queen rearing.
5 July and 9 August
Smallholding this is an introduction to those thinking about or starting a smallholding we will cover hens, sheep, vegetables, bees also sales and marketing of your produce.
2 August and 30 August.
The costs are £50 per person or £37.50 if you are a member of the Soil Association. An organic lunch will be provided included in the cost.
Click on the title for this piece for a link to the relevant Soil Association page.

Progress with vegetables

The salad crops grown in frames have progressed well after this spell of fine weather, we use mesh on all the frames as polythene over heats and blows about in the wind. The mesh reduces water loss due to wind, keeps out the insects while still allowing light and rain to reach the plants.
We are now planting our second batch of beetroot, this will see us through to autumn and into early winter as long as we can keep the Short Tailed Voles off.

We usually try to plant our fine beans through some form of weed control mulch, this year we are trying half meter wide strips with the beans planted in the gaps. The pipes over the top are for irrigation.
This is what remains of the leek seedlings planted in the frame after the chickens got in twice. We have had to plant 2,0000 in modules to try and make up the numbers for this years crop. I think we will be down by about 2k plants on last year, so will have to sow other crops to replace the income.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Another course at Hopesay Glebe Farm

We ran another day class here yesterday where thirteen keen organic gardeners came together to learn about and discuss small scale organic vegetable growing. I've published notes on the talk I did at
if this doesn't work click on the title of this piece and that should take you to the notes.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Vegetable progress

The weather is OK this spring, we have had enough water and some sunshine so things are moving along well enough. So far we have finished planting onions and the first crop of beetroot and the outdoor early spinach.
In the tunnels we are experimenting with runner and broad beans under polythene, so far growth has been slow and seems to be tied closely to soil water levels. We initially had a problem with pollination of the broad beans but increasing relative humidity seems to have improved the set. we will see the jury is still out on those protected crops.
Other tunnel crops such as early spinach salad leaves and lettuce are progressing well and ready for harvest while the fine beans are established and seem to be making reasonable progress.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Lambs at last

First lambs of the season, this one had a bit of a struggle with two legs back, he was the second lamb and was taking too long when we spotted a nose and tongue no feet. We pulled the ewe up by her hind legs to allow the lamb to slip back and Nicky got the two legs forward and assisted the birth. Pretty soon he was up and about, as soon as we see lambs have taken colostrum we are happy to leave to get on with bonding.
Mother ewe licking cleans the lamb and tells her which is her lamb, as she recognises them from their smell from now on.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

First graft of the season

We graft into queenless starter hives which after 24 hours are united back with the queen above a queen excluder. Here the queenless starter is the single box on the left which will be united with the double hive after cells have been started.Simple top bars are used to which we attach the plastic cell cups. This bar had 9 from 16 accepted, not brilliant but OK for the first graft of the season. The accepted cells have wax drawn out from the cell edge.
Inside the cell the larva can been seen surrounded with larval food supplied by the nurse bees. The cell on the left of the picture has been drawn out but there is no larva present. Presumably rejected after it was started.